Tim Burton's remake (he calls it a "reimaging") of the 1968 classic Planet of the Apes has finally landed. While fans of the original argue over Mark Wahlberg's success as Charlton Heston's successor, critics in the religious media are looking for what the movie suggests about humanity and salvation. Unfortunately, most reviewers were too baffled by the film's shoddy script to find much fodder for contemplation.

Of critics in the religious media, The Dove Foundation's Holly McClure goes fairly easy on the movie: "The makeup is truly phenomenal and brings a lifelike feel to the characters. The funniest scenes are the subtle spoofs on monkey/human humor, but unfortunately there were too many of those and not enough character depth to make you care about any of the struggling survivors." The U.S. Catholic Conference says the film is a mixed bag: "Director Tim Burton's reinvention excels in its makeup and visual effects, but lacks narrative depth with self-conscious dialogue and a sly cynicism toward religious beliefs." Movieguide's critic points out some problems. "Planet of the Apes … is plagued by plot holes, story inconsistencies and self-contradictions, poor dialogue, over the top acting, an abhorrent worldview, and a very weak hero and lead actor. The Twilight Zone ending will leave many people scratching their heads, because it is inane." John Barber at Preview writes, "Fans of the original may enjoy the comic relief provided by references to the 1968 classic and a slightly-more-than-cameo appearance by its star, Charlton Heston. But throw the updated special effects aside, and this film is not as intriguing the second time around. A faint attempt to copy the drama of Heston's discovery … of the Statue of Liberty in ruins falls short."

The Phantom Tollbooth's J. Robert Parks was similarly dazzled and disappointed. "The latex masks and intricately detailed hairpieces are so realistic and allow the actors so much freedom of expression that you might forget you're actually watching human actors in monkey suits. Similarly, the production design of longtime Burton collaborator Rick Heinrichs is equal to his impressive work in last year's Sleepy Hollow. The sets are fantastic and believable. And Danny Elfman's score and Richard Anderson's impressive sound effects envelop you. You feel as if you've entered another world. Now all we need is a reason to care. Though the script is actually somewhat intelligent and the dialogue reasonably interesting, the story is genuinely dull."

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Michael Elliott of Movie Parables digs deeper into the film's subtext: "The original film was seen in its day as being a metaphor for ills of racial division. Burton's version also has a number of philosophical undercurrents running through it … not least of which is a religious/spiritual subtext. … The ape culture is depicted as worshiping the Christlike figure, Semos, who was the first of their kind and who, they believe, will one day return. This belief of theirs is based on legend and tall tales handed down for millennia, which leads the movie audience to the unspoken but inevitable conclusion that today's followers of Christ do the same." Focus on the Family's Bob Smithouser claims the story is built around "a spiritual vacuum. Not only does the script build on the rickety foundation of macroevolution, but it does so at the expense of orthodox religion." He also points out an interesting inadvertent theme in the film: "Why does so much sci-fi hinge on the heroics of otherworldly saviors? From Superman to E.T., it appears there's a Christ-shaped hole audiences don't even know they have, and it's being filled by cleverly conceived substitutes. Of course, the opportunity awaiting Christians is to draw upon these cultural models to point fans of fiction to the real Hero, Jesus."

Smithouser has a point; in all genres of storytelling, the need for a savior is a recurring theme. But I wouldn't call them "cleverly conceived substitutes" so much as human intuitions that lead to inadvertent parables, stories that know more about the truth than their own writers. This is evidence of God's irrepressible truth, breaking through the surface of stories in spite of the authors; it is not part of a creative conspiracy to replace Jesus. For all of Hollywood's defiance of Christian ideas, moviemakers are people too, and still hungry for a savior. Thus, movies persist in reminding us that, left to our own devices, we are unable to save ourselves.

If Planet of the Apes shows us anything, it is that humanity needs no alien threat; we're already busy destroying each other. While the apes are shown as fearsome, slavedriving monsters, their deeds are clearly modeled on behaviors that humans themselves repeatedly demonstrate throughout history. Wahlberg's character scowls and tells Ari that she wouldn't want to see his homeworld, where humans treat each other worse than the apes treat their slaves. So who's the real villain here? And who is the hero in this spectacular mess? While these humans assert sovereignty on an "evolutionary ladder," at the same time they know that they can be more barbaric and simple-minded than even the beasts of the field. Charlton Heston gets a laugh by poking fun at his own support for the NRA, making a speech about the "cruelty" of humans with guns. While this is clearly just a crowd-pleasing joke, it made me wonder if the movie's heroes would find a nonviolent solution to the conflict. But the final confrontation comes down to the usual "my firearm is better than your spear." This is, after all, a summer blockbuster.

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I liked Planet of the Apes whenever Tim Burton's imagination came to the fore. (My review is at Looking Closer.) Most Burton-esque of all is Ari (Helena Bonham Carter), a chimp with a conscience who is strangely attracted to the human leader (Wahlberg). Carter proves again she's one of the great screen actresses with a performance that succeeds despite an all-encompassing costume. She's gives this social misfit a sadness and longing not a far cry from Scissorhands himself. Ari is the standard Burton social outcast with taboo longings, unloved, sorely and tragically misunderstood. Her vision of a world where different people live "separate but equal" lives comes out as an oversimplified anti-prejudice sermon, but when she shuts up, her loneliness and yearning shine through. You can feel Burton pressured to deliver a typical lamebrained action pic; his interest in Ari's inner conflict is shoved aside to make room for the battlefield finale, and the "twist" ending that is truly surprising in that it make no sense.

In the mainstream press, the Chicago Sun-Times's Roger Ebert praises the film but asks, "Planet of the Apes is the kind of movie that you enjoy at times, admire at times, even really like at times, but is it necessary? Burton's work can show a wild and crazed imagination, but here he seems reined in. He's made a film that's respectful to the original, and respectable in itself, but that's not enough. Ten years from now, it will be the 1968 version that people are still renting." Reel.com's Tor Thorsen is not so generous: "Planet of the Apes is a step backwards for the sci-fi genre, abandoning the innovative spirit of its forbear. Very much a child of today's Hollywood, it's a triumph of production design over storytelling, of clichés over creativity." The New York Times's Elvis Mitchell says, "When Mr. Burton's Planet fixes on being entertaining as single-mindedly as the gorillas bearing down on homo sapiens, it succeeds. But the picture states its social points so bluntly that it becomes slow-witted and condescending; it treats the audience as pets. This picture has as much ambition about conquering the box office as General Thade does in taking over the monkey planet." "What the human race in this movie seems most in need of being saved from is the perils of threadbare screenwriting," concludes Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly. "The movie is all but destined to become Burton's second hit in a row. Let's hope that he uses his newly restored power in Hollywood to become an artist again."

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Another truth that resonates with audiences over and over is the possibility for hope even when all seems lost. That is the thread that winds through one of the year's buried treasures. Jump Tomorrow is a romantic comedy about a multicultural mix of characters who learn about the strange and unpredictable nature of love, and how it's always best to put off "jumping" until tomorrow, just in case fortune (or perhaps better: grace) changes everything.

Pastor Darrel Manson raves in his review at Hollywood Jesus, "Jump Tomorrow is a delight. It's a romantic comedy. It's a road movie. And it is about hope. What is is not necessarily what has to be. There is time to look for something else if we wait to 'jump tomorrow.' It's not a terribly deep film, but it certainly is enjoyable with wonderful humor. Its distribution may be limited, but watch for it on cable." J. Robert Parks of The Phantom Tollbooth is also impressed: "Jump Tomorrow is both a nice homage to previous run-to-the-altar comedies and a winningly good-natured exploration of multiculturalism. I was won over by the film's characters. I cared deeply whether George and Alicia got together, and the movie does a nice job of bringing about a satisfying resolution without resorting to belittling any of its secondary characters. It's also helped immeasurably by the charisma of all three leads. The film doesn't have a lot of depth, but its surface pleasures are enough." Movieguide's critic calls it "a sweet-natured road movie with a Latin flavor … a good first effort for writer/director Joel Hopkins. Some polish would help, although the movie features generally good performances."

Mainstream critics are also jumping. "The movie doesn't have an unkind thought in its head," writes Roger Ebert. "It's all sweetness and understated charm. It doesn't punch out its comic points but lets the story gradually reveal them. By the end … I was awfully fond of the picture. Is there a market for a movie like this?"

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I hope so. In a summer of unimaginative, disappointing movies, films that offer hope, beauty, and insight are needed. This week, I'd suggest you forget about blockbusters and take a chance on a couple of such sharp selections as Jump Tomorrow or Zhang Yimou's The Road Home before it is too late.

I finally saw The Road Home this week. Coming out of the theatre I felt rejuvenated, as though I'd just spent a leisurely vacation in an exotic landscape where God was at work in the natural world, doing some of his finest work. The story's portrayal of love that waits, love that endures all things, gave me a beautiful picture of God's relentless love. Once in a while, when a camera turns away from chaos and the barbarism of humanity at its worst, when it focuses instead on creation or on those rare moments when human beings show love to one another, we might catch a glimpse of a higher power at work. And that's more fun than a barrel of monkeys.

Next week: Should you avoid Rush Hour 2? And while the summer blockbusters conquer the box office, critics have caught a few interesting films—like Ghost World—quietly moving beneath the radar of the mainstream.